Climate Change Could Cause More Turbulent Flights

Climate change could cause stronger turbulence for airline passengers, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Reading in England say “turbulence strong enough to catapult unbuckled passengers and crew around the aircraft cabin” could become two or three times more common.

“For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing,” said Paul Williams, who conducted the research. “However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world.”

Specifically, researchers used supercomputer models to look at how wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence at an altitude of 12 kilometers will change when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which could happen by the end of this century.

The models show light turbulence could increase by 59 percent, light-to-moderate turbulence could jump by 75 percent, moderate-to-severe turbulence could rise by 127 percent and severe turbulence could bounce a whopping 149 percent.

The reason, according to the researchers is that climate change “is generating stronger wind shears in the jet stream.”

“Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change,” said Williams.

The study is published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

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